This is part one in what I hope to make a series of conversations with women here in the Congo. Enjoy and let me know if there are specific questions you (the readers) want to ask women here!
Names: Charly K., Hélène L.
Where were you born? How did you arrive in Lubumbashi?
CK: I was born in Kalemie. My dad studied here but he was on mission in Kalamie where I was born and then after a few years we returned to Lubumbashi.
HL: I was born in Moba in Tanganyika Province. Since I was 9 – 10 years old I’ve lived with my older brother. He got a job here in Lubumbashi working for a mining company so I came with him.
What do you do for the Salesians?
CK: I’m a video editor for the Salesians. I also do graphic design, filming and photography.
HL: I’m the secretary for the Oeuvres Maman Marguerite network which is a social NGO that supports fourteen Welcome Houses and centers for at-risk children.
Who decided what and where you would study?
HL: At first it was me. I wanted to be a nurse but after a year of study I realized that it wasn’t for me. My older brother guided me and helped me decide what I should do instead. I ended up studying history and social work.
How did you decide what work you wanted to do?
CK: It was destiny. I studied information networks at one of the universities in town but a priest invited me to check out the video department with the Salesians and do an internship. I liked it and then did some professional development after the internship and finally I was offered a job.
HL: Well first I was a teacher. I also was very involved in various youth groups at my church. Through those groups I was more and more drawn to the poorest children and wanting to work with them. And that turned into welcoming them into my home which connected me to the OMM network which has multiple centers including foster homes.
What did you family tell you was appropriate for women to do?
CK: Both my parents, papa and mama, have worked since I was born. They told us that it was up to each of us to decide what we wanted to do. When I was little I thought about being a nun but after high school when I was deciding if I should enter a convent or continue my studies I decided to continue my studies.
HL: As far as being a teacher my family had no problem with that. They said it was an appropriate and good choice. The thing that they had a problem with was living with the street children. They asked me if I could really handle and if I was ready to accept them.
What’s the hardest part about being a woman in the Congo?
CK: Women have the same abilities as men. There are women who are smarter than men but they are afraid of speaking up. They don’t value their voice and their selves.
HL: There are a lot of difficulties but the biggest is poverty. Societies should help their people advance but if they don’t… you can study all you want but if there is no job or salary available to you once you’re done with your studies, you can’t pay your rent, you can’t pay school fees for your children, etc.
What’s the best part about being a woman in the Congo?
CK: The highest honor for women in the Congo is the ability to have children. Unmarried women don’t have value.
HL: Relationships, the fraternity of the culture. Even if I have nothing I can still live. An aunt will give me a little something, a brother will offer a place to sleep for the night.
What is the status of women in the Congo?
CK: Women are a little bit marginalized. They are not given importance. They are considered machines [for having children].
Are you treated the same as your male colleagues?
CK: Yes in the office I’m treated the same as my male co-workers.
HL: (answering this question and the question before together) I don’t believe so. Maybe now I am. But in general married women aren’t given the same salary as married men. It’s assumed that the husband will be paying for rent, food, etc. so the woman doesn’t need as much of a salary.
What would you like to see changed?
CK: Women treated the same as men. In my department there are three of us – two men and me. Women have to work much harder just to be at the same level as men.
HL: The government. They say it’s democracy but it’s not. Basic human rights should be for everyone.
Are you married? If so how did you meet your husband? If not what is your ideal husband?
CK: No I’m not. My ideal husband is someone who loves me, respects me and considers me his equal.
HL: No I have chosen to be single and work for the Church.
How does Congolese society view motherhood? Is it important to have children? If you don’t have children, how do you feel?
CK: Yes it’s important. Without children it’s complicated in society.
HL: Yes it’s encouraged but we should make sure that they are taking care of the children and that they are educated.
What do you want to tell Western women about life in the Congo?
CK: Western women are implicated in the life of Congolese women. They should help the women in the Congo. Women have the same capacities as men. As for Congolese women, we should know the law. We can’t know our rights if we don’t know the laws.
HL: In general life is good but what is difficult is that the state doesn’t help us to live out our femininity. In the interior of the country, women are still living (hunches her shoulders and hides her face). In the city there are opportunities but in the interior and in the villages women are expected to take care of the children and that’s it.